The Way It Was: J. Brandenberger, Cellophane

By April 6, 2008The Way It Was

The%20Way%20It%20Was.jpgWe live in a world of marvelous products that make our lives immeasurably easier and more enjoyable, and usually we don’t give them a second thought.

Take for example – cellophane – that wonderful clear, clinging plastic that is found in every kitchen, and lots of other places. It did not spring into being of its own accord, and it doesn’t grow on trees.

Actually, cellophane was invented about a century ago by a Swiss chemist and textile engineer named Jacques Edwin Brandenberger. He was seated at a restaurant in Paris in 1900 when he saw a patron spill a bottle of red wine on a pristine white tablecloth. He decided to develop a way to make such fabrics impervious to wine, and other stains.

He never did, but one of his failed experiments left him with a plastic coating that kept sloughing off the cloth in big sheets of thin, transparent film. Brandenberg decided this film had potential and spent almost 10 years designing a machine to make it. Voila! Cellophane.

In 1912 he formed a company, La Cellophane, combining the words “cello” from cellulose with “phane” from the French word diphane meaning transparent. In 1923, he cut a deal with Du Pont to make and distribute the new material throughout North and South America.

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